Role Supersonic airliner
Manufacturer BAC (now BAE Systems)
Sud-Aviation, Aérospatiale (now EADS)
First flight 2 March 1969
Introduction 21 January 1976
Retired 26 November 2003
Status Retired from service
Primary users British Airways
Air France
See Operators below for others
Number built 20 (including 6 non-airline aircraft)[1][2]
Program cost £1.3 billion[3]
Unit cost £23 million in 1977

Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde was a turbojet-powered supersonic passenger airliner, a supersonic transport (SST). It was a product of an Anglo-French government treaty, combining the manufacturing efforts of Aérospatiale and the British Aircraft Corporation. First flown in 1969, Concorde entered service in 1976 and continued commercial flights for 27 years.

Among other destinations, Concorde flew regular transatlantic flights from London Heathrow (British Airways) and Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (Air France) to New York JFK, profitably flying these routes at record speeds, in less than half the time of other airliners.

With only 20 aircraft built, their development represented a substantial economic loss, in addition to which Air France and British Airways were subsidised by their governments to buy them. As a result of the type’s only crash on 25 July 2000 and other factors, its retirement flight was on 26 November 2003.

Concorde's name reflects the development agreement between the United Kingdom and France. In the UK, any or all of the type—unusual for an aircraft—are known simply as "Concorde", sans article. The aircraft is regarded by many as an aviation icon and an engineering marvel.[4]



Concorde's final flight, G-BOAF from Heathrow to Bristol, on 26 November 2003. The extremely high fineness ratio of the fuselage is evident.

In the late 1950s, the United Kingdom, France, United States, and Soviet Union were considering developing supersonic transport. The British Bristol Aeroplane Company and the French Sud Aviation were both working on designs, called the Type 223 and Super-Caravelle, respectively. Both were largely funded by their respective governments.[5] The British design was for a thin-winged delta shape[6] (which owed much to work by Dietrich Küchemann, then at the Royal Aircraft Establishment) for a transatlantic-ranged aircraft for about 100 people, while the French were intending to build a medium-range aircraft.[5]

The designs were both ready to start prototype construction in the early 1960s, but the cost was so great that the British government made it a requirement that British Aircraft Corporation (which had been formed in 1960 as a consolidation of British aircraft companies, including the Bristol Aeroplane Company) look for international co-operation.[5] Approaches were made to a number of countries, but only France showed real interest. The development project was negotiated as an international treaty between the two countries rather than a commercial agreement between companies and included a clause, originally asked for by the UK, imposing heavy penalties for cancellation. A draft treaty was signed on 29 November 1962. By this time, both companies had been merged into new ones; thus, the Concorde project was between the British Aircraft Corporation and Aérospatiale.[5] At first the new consortium intended to produce one long range and one short range version. However, prospective customers showed no interest in the short-range version and it was dropped.[5] The consortium secured orders (i.e., non-binding options) for over 100 of the long-range version from the major airlines of the day: Pan Am, BOAC and Air France were the launch customers, with six Concordes each. Other airlines in the order book included Panair do Brasil, Continental Airlines, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa, American Airlines, United Airlines, Air India, Air Canada, Braniff, Singapore Airlines, Iran Air, Olympic Airways, Qantas, CAAC, Middle East Airlines and TWA.[5][7]

Design work was supported by a research programme that investigated the characteristics of the low ratio delta wing. The supersonic BAC 211 tested the high speed range[8] while the Handley Page HP.115 served for low speeds.[9]


Reflecting the treaty between the British and French governments which led to Concorde's construction, the name Concorde is from the French word concorde (IPA: [kɔ̃kɔʁd]), which has an English equivalent, concord (IPA: /ˈkɒŋkɔrd/). Both words mean agreement, harmony or union.

British Airways Concorde in early BA livery at Heathrow Airport, in the 1980s

The aircraft was initially referred to in the UK as Concorde, with the French spelling, but was officially changed to Concord by Harold Macmillan in response to a perceived slight by Charles de Gaulle.[5] In 1967, at the French roll-out in Toulouse the British Government Minister for Technology, Tony Benn announced that he would change the spelling back to Concorde.[10] This created a nationalist uproar that died down when Benn stated that the suffixed ‹e› represented "Excellence, England, Europe and Entente (Cordiale)." In his memoirs, he recounts a tale of a letter from an irate Scotsman claiming: "[Y]ou talk about 'E' for England, but part of it is made in Scotland." Given Scotland’s contribution of providing the nose cone for the aircraft, Benn replied, "[I]t was also 'E' for 'Écosse' (the French name for Scotland) — and I might have added 'e' for extravagance and 'e' for escalation as well!"[11]

Concorde also acquired an unusual nomenclature for an aircraft. In common usage in the United Kingdom, the type is known as Concorde without an article, rather than the Concorde or a Concorde.[12][13]


Construction of two prototypes began in February 1965: 001, built by Aerospatiale at Toulouse, and 002, by BAC at Filton, Bristol. Concorde 001 made its first test flight from Toulouse on 2 March 1969, piloted by André Turcat,[14] and first went supersonic on 1 October.[15] The first UK-built Concorde flew from Filton to RAF Fairford on 9 April 1969, piloted by Brian Trubshaw.[16][17] Both prototypes were presented to the public for the first time on 7–8 June 1969 at the Paris Airshow. As the flight programme progressed, 001 embarked on a sales and demonstration tour on 4 September 1971, which was also the first transatlantic crossing of Concorde.[18][19] Concorde 002 followed suit on 2 June 1972 with a tour of the Middle and Far East.[20] Concorde 002 made the first visit to the United States in 1973, landing at the new Dallas/Fort Worth Regional Airport to mark that airport’s opening.[21]

Concorde's first visit to Heathrow Airport on 1 July 1972.

These trips led to orders for over 70 aircraft, but a combination of factors led to order cancellations: the 1973 oil crisis, financial difficulties of airlines, a spectacular Paris Le Bourget air show crash of the competing Soviet Tupolev Tu-144, and environmental concerns such as the sonic boom, takeoff-noise and pollution. By 1976 four nations remained as prospective buyers: Britain, France, China, and Iran.[22] In the end only Air France and British Airways (the successor to BOAC) took up their orders, with the two governments taking a cut of any profits made. IranAir's orders were canceled after the Islamic Revolution. In the case of BA, 80% of the profit was kept by the government until 1984 in return for a state loan to buy the aircraft.[23]

The United States cancelled the Boeing 2707, its supersonic transport programme, in 1971. Industry observers in France and the United Kingdom suggested that part of the American opposition to Concorde on grounds of noise pollution was orchestrated, or at least encouraged, by the United States Government, out of spite at not being able to propose a viable competitor,[24] despite President John F. Kennedy's impassioned 1963 statement of commitment.[25] Other countries, such as India and Malaysia, ruled out Concorde supersonic overflights stating noise concerns.[26][27]

Demonstration and test flights were flown from 1974 onwards.[5] The testing of Concorde set records that have not been surpassed; the prototype, pre-production and first production aircraft undertook 5,335 flight hours; 2,000 test hours were at supersonic speeds. During one such test flight, on 7 November 1974, 001 performed the fastest civil flight across the North Atlantic, setting a record that still stands. Unit costs were £23 million (US$46 million, EUR 50 million) in 1977, and development costs were six times the projected amount.[28][N 1]


General features

Concorde cockpit layout

Concorde is an ogival (also "ogee") delta-winged aircraft with four Olympus engines based on those employed in the RAF's Avro Vulcan strategic bomber. Concorde was the first airliner to have an (in this case, analogue) fly-by-wire flight-control system; the avionics of Concorde were unique because it was the first commercial aircraft to employ hybrid circuits.[29] The principal designer for the project was Pierre Satre, with Sir Archibald Russell as his deputy.[30]

Concorde pioneered the following technologies:

For high speed and optimisation of flight:

  • Double delta (ogee/ogival) shaped wings[6]
  • Variable engine air intake system controlled by digital computers[31]
  • Supercruise capability[32]
  • Thrust-by-wire engines, predecessor of today’s FADEC-controlled engines[31]
  • Droop-nose section for better landing visibility

For weight-saving and enhanced performance:

  • Mach 2.04 (~2,170 kilometres per hour / 1,350 mph) cruising speed[33] for optimum fuel consumption (supersonic drag minimum although turbojet engines are more efficient at higher speed[34])
  • Mainly aluminium construction for low weight and conventional manufacture (higher speeds would have ruled out aluminium)[35]
  • Full-regime autopilot and autothrottle[36] allowing "hands off" control of the aircraft from climbout to landing
  • Fully electrically controlled analogue fly-by-wire flight controls systems[29]
  • High-pressure hydraulic system of 28 MPa (4,000 lbf/in²) for lighter hydraulic components[37]
  • Complex Air Data Computer (ADC) for the automated monitoring and transmission of aerodynamic measurements (total pressure, static pressure, angle of attack, side-slip).[38]
  • Fully electrically controlled analogue brake-by-wire system[39]
  • Pitch trim by shifting fuel around the fuselage for centre-of-gravity control[40]
  • Parts made using "sculpture milling", reducing the part count while saving weight and adding strength.[41]
  • Lack of an auxiliary power unit, as Concorde would only visit large airports where ground air start carts are available.[42]


Close up of pre-production engine nozzles of G-AXDN. The nozzle/thrust reverser design was altered for production
Concorde's intake system schematics
Concorde's intake system

Concorde needed to fly long distances to be economically viable; this required high efficiency. Turbofan engines were rejected due to their larger cross-section producing excessive drag. Turbojets were found to be the best choice of engines.[43] The engine used was the twin spool Rolls-Royce/Snecma Olympus 593, a development of the Bristol engine first used for the Avro Vulcan bomber, and developed into an afterburning supersonic variant for the BAC TSR-2 strike bomber.[44]

The intake design for Concorde’s engines was critical.[45] Conventional jet engines can take in air at only around Mach 0.5; therefore the air has to be slowed from the Mach 2.0 airspeed that enters the engine intake. In particular, Concorde needed to control the shock waves that this reduction in speed generates to avoid damage to the engines. This was done by a pair of intake ramps and an auxiliary spill door, whose position moved in-flight to slow transiting air.[46] The effectiveness of the intake system is such that, during supersonic flight, 63% of the aircraft's thrust is attributed to the intakes whilst the exhaust nozzles generate 29% and the engines just 8% of the thrust.[47]

Engine failure causes problems on conventional subsonic aircraft; not only does the aircraft lose thrust on that side but the engine creates drag, causing the aircraft to yaw and bank in the direction of the failed engine. If this had happened to Concorde at supersonic speeds, it could theoretically cause a catastrophic failure of the airframe.[48] During an engine failure, air intake needs are virtually zero, so in Concorde, the immediate effects of the engine failure were countered by the opening of the auxiliary spill door and the full extension of the ramps, which deflected the air downwards past the engine, gaining lift and streamlining the engine, minimising the drag effects of the failed engine. Although computer simulations predicted considerable problems, in practice Concorde could shut down both engines on the same side of the aircraft at Mach 2 without the predicted difficulties.[49] Concorde pilots were routinely trained to handle double engine failure.[50]

The aircraft used reheat (afterburners) at takeoff and to pass through the transonic regime (i.e., "go supersonic") between Mach 0.95 and Mach 1.7, and were switched off at all other times.[51] Due to jet engines being highly inefficient at low speeds, Concorde burned two tonnes of fuel (almost 2% of the maximum fuel load) taxiing to the runway.[52] To conserve fuel only the two outer engines were run after landing for taxiing.

Heating issues

Besides engines, the hottest part of the structure of any supersonic aircraft is the nose. The engineers used Hiduminium R.R. 58, an aluminium alloy, throughout the aircraft due to its familiarity, cost and ease of construction. The highest temperature that aluminium could sustain over the life of the aircraft was 127 °C (261 °F), which limited the top speed to Mach 2.02.[53] Concorde went through two cycles of heating and cooling during a flight, first cooling down as it gained altitude, then heating up after going supersonic. The reverse happened when descending and slowing down. This had to be factored into the metallurgical modelling. A test rig was built that repeatedly heated up a full-size section of the wing, and then cooled it, and periodically samples of metal were taken for testing.[54][55]

Concorde on take-off, the Olympus engines' exhaust leaving a heat haze

Owing to the heat generated by compression of air as Concorde travelled supersonically, the fuselage would extend by as much as 300 mm (almost 1 ft), the most obvious manifestation of this being a gap that opened up on the flight deck between the flight engineer's console and the bulkhead. On some aircraft that conducted a retiring supersonic flight, the flight engineers placed their caps in this expanded gap, wedging the cap when it shrunk again.[56] To keep the cabin cool, Concorde used the fuel as a heat sink for the heat from the air conditioning,[57] the same method also cooled the hydraulics. During supersonic flight the surfaces forward from the cockpit became heated, a visor was used to deflect much of this heat from directly reaching the cockpit.[58]

Concorde had livery restrictions; the majority of the surface had to be covered with a highly reflective white paint to avoid overheating the aluminium structure due to heating effects from supersonic flight at Mach 2.[59] In 1996, Air France briefly painted F-BTSD in a predominantly blue livery (with the exception of the wings) in a promotional deal with Pepsi.[60] In this paint scheme, Air France were advised to remain at Mach 2 for no more than 20 minutes at a time, but there was no restriction at speeds under Mach 1.7. F-BTSD was used because it was not scheduled for any long flights that required extended Mach 2 operations.[61]

Structural issues

Fuel pitch trim

Due to the high speeds at which Concorde travelled, large forces were applied to the aircraft's structure during banks and turns. This caused twisting and the distortion of the aircraft’s structure. In addition there were concerns over maintaining precise control at supersonic speeds; both of these issues were resolved by active ratio changes between the inboard and outboard elevons, varying at differing speeds including supersonic. Only the innermost elevons, which are attached to the stiffest area of the wings, were active at high speed.[62] Additionally, the narrow fuselage meant that the aircraft flexed.[31] This was visible from the rear passengers’ viewpoints.[63]

When any aircraft passes the critical mach of that particular airframe, the centre of pressure shifts rearwards. This causes a pitch down force on the aircraft if the centre of mass remains where it was. The engineers designed the wings in a specific manner to reduce this shift, but there was still a shift of about 2 metres. This could have been countered by the use of trim controls, but at such high speeds this would have caused a dramatic increase in the drag on the aircraft. Instead, the distribution of fuel along the aircraft was shifted during acceleration and deceleration to move the centre of mass, effectively acting as an auxiliary trim control.[64]


In order to travel between London and New York, or Washington, non-stop, Concorde was developed to have the greatest supersonic range of any aircraft. This was achieved by a combination of engines which were highly efficient at supersonic speeds (the world's most energy-efficient jet engine[31]), a slender fuselage with high fineness ratio, and a complex wing shape delivering a high lift to drag ratio. This also required carrying only a modest payload and a high fuel capacity, and the aircraft was trimmed with precision to avoid unnecessary drag.[6][64][47]

Nevertheless, soon after Concorde began flying, a Concorde "B" model was designed with slightly larger fuel capacity and slightly larger wings with leading edge slats to improve aerodynamic performance at all speeds. It featured more powerful engines with sound deadening and without the fuel-hungry and noisy reheat. It was speculated that it was reasonably possible to create an engine with up to 25% gain in efficiency over the Rolls-Royce/Snecma Olympus 593.[65] This would have given 500 mi (805 km) additional range and a greater payload, making new commercial routes possible. This was cancelled due in part to poor sales of Concorde, but also to the rising cost of aviation fuel in the 1970s.[66]

Increased radiation exposure

Concorde fuselage

The high altitude at which Concorde cruised meant passengers received almost twice the flux of extraterrestrial ionising radiation as those travelling on a conventional long-haul flight.[67][68] Upon Concorde's introduction, it was speculated that this exposure during supersonic travels would increase the likelihood of skin cancer.[69] However, due to the proportionally reduced flight time, the overall equivalent dose would normally be less than a conventional flight over the same distance.[70] Unusual solar activity might lead to an increase in incident radiation.[71] To prevent incidents of excessive radiation exposure the flight deck had a radiometer and an instrument to measure the rate of decrease of radiation.[68] If the radiation level became too high, Concorde would descend below 47,000 feet (14,000 m).

Cabin pressurisation

British Airways Concorde interior. The narrow fuselage permitted only 4 seats across the aircraft with limited headroom.

Airliner cabins were usually maintained at a pressure equivalent to 6,000–8,000 feet (1,800–2,400 m) elevation. Concorde’s pressurisation was set to an altitude at the lower end of this range, 6,000 feet (1,800 m).[72] Concorde’s maximum cruising altitude was 60,000 feet (18,000 m); subsonic airliners typically cruise below 40,000 feet (12,000 m). Above 50,000 feet (15,000 m), the lack of air pressure would give a "time of useful consciousness" in even a conditioned athlete of no more than 10–15 seconds.[73] A sudden reduction in cabin pressure is hazardous to all passengers and crew.[74] At Concorde’s altitude, the air density is very low; a breach of cabin integrity would result in a loss of pressure severe enough so that the plastic emergency oxygen masks installed on other passenger jets would not be effective, and passengers would quickly suffer from hypoxia despite quickly donning them. Concorde was equipped with smaller windows to reduce the rate of loss in the event of a breach,[75] a reserve air supply system to augment cabin air pressure, and a rapid descent procedure to bring the aircraft to a safe altitude. The FAA enforces minimum emergency descent rates for aircraft and made note of Concorde’s higher operating altitude, concluding that the best response to a loss of pressure would be a rapid descent.[76] Continuous Positive Airway Pressure would have delivered pressurised oxygen directly to the pilots through masks.[75]

Flight characteristics

Concorde performing a low-level flypast at an air show in August 1981

While commercial jets take eight hours to fly from New York to Paris, the average supersonic flight time on the transatlantic routes was just under 3.5 hours. Concorde had a maximum cruise altitude of 18,300 metres (60,039 ft) and an average cruise speed of Mach 2.02, about 1155 knots (2140 km/h or 1334 mph), more than twice the speed of conventional aircraft.[77]

With no other civil traffic operating at its cruising altitude of about 56,000 ft (17,000 m), dedicated oceanic airways or "tracks" were used by Concorde to cross the Atlantic. Due to the nature of high altitude winds, these SST tracks were fixed in terms of their co-ordinates, unlike the North Atlantic Tracks at lower altitudes whose co-ordinates alter daily according to forecast weather patterns.[78] Concorde would also be cleared in a 15,000-foot (4,600 m) block, allowing for a slow climb from 45,000 to 60,000 ft (18,000 m) during the oceanic crossing as the fuel load gradually decreased.[79] In regular service, Concorde employed an efficient cruise-climb flight profile following take-off.[80]

The delta-shaped wings forced Concorde to attain a higher angle of attack at low speeds than conventional aircraft, but it allowed the formation of large low pressure vortices over the entire upper wing surface, maintaining lift.[81] The normal landing speed was 170 miles per hour (274 km/h).[82] Because of this high angle, during a landing approach Concorde was on the "back side" of the drag force curve, where raising the nose would increase the sink rate, the aircraft was thus largely flown on the throttle and was fitted with an autothrottle to reduce the pilot's workload.[83]

Brakes and undercarriage

Concorde tyres and brakes
Tail bumper of Concorde G-BOAG at the Museum of Flight in Seattle

Because of the way Concorde's delta-wing generated lift, the undercarriage had to be unusually strong. At rotation, Concorde would rise to a high angle of attack, about 18 degrees. Prior to rotation the wing generated almost no lift, unlike typical aircraft wings. Combined with the high airspeed at rotation (199 KIAS), this increased the stresses on the rear undercarriage in a way that was initially unexpected during the development and required a major redesign.[84] Due to the high alpha needed at rotation, a small set of wheels were added aft to prevent tailstrikes. The rear main undercarriage units swing towards each other to be stowed but due to their great height also need to retract telescopically before swinging in order to clear each other when stowed.[85]

Additionally, due to the high average takeoff speed of 250 miles per hour (400 km/h), Concorde needed upgraded brakes. Like most airliners, Concorde has anti-skid braking – a system which prevents the tyres from losing traction when the brakes are applied for greater control during roll-out. The brakes, developed by Dunlop, were the first carbon-based brakes used on an airliner.[86] They could bring Concorde to a stop from an aborted takeoff within one mile (1600 m) when weighing up to 185 tons (188 tonnes) and travelling at 190 miles per hour (310 km/h). This braking manoeuvre brought the brakes to temperatures of 300–500 °C, requiring several hours for cooling.[87]

Droop nose

Concorde’s drooping nose enabled the aircraft to switch between being streamlined to reduce drag and achieve optimum aerodynamic efficiency, and not obstructing the pilot's view during taxi, takeoff, and landing operations. Due to the high angle of attack the long pointed nose obstructed the view and necessitated the capability to droop.[88] The droop nose was accompanied by a moving visor that retracted into the nose prior to being lowered. When the nose was raised to horizontal, the visor would raise in front of the cockpit windscreen for aerodynamic streamlining.[89]

Concorde landing at Farnborough in September 1974.

A controller in the cockpit allowed the visor to be retracted and the nose to be lowered to 5° below the standard horizontal position for taxiing and takeoff. Following takeoff and after clearing the airport, the nose and visor were raised. Prior to landing, the visor was again retracted and the nose lowered to 12.5° below horizontal for maximum visibility. Upon landing the nose was raised to the five-degree position to avoid the possibility of damage.[89] On rare occasions, the aircraft could take off with the nose fully down.[90]

A final position had the visor retracted into the nose but the nose in the standard horizontal position. This setup was used for cleaning the windscreen and for short subsonic flights.[89] The two prototype Concordes had two fixed "glass holes" on their retractable visors.[91][92] The Federal Aviation Administration objected to the restrictive visibility and demanded a design change before it would permit Concorde to serve US airports, which led to the redesigned visor used on the production and the four pre-production aircraft (101, 102, 201, and 202).[93] The nose window and visor glass needed to endure temperatures in excess of 100°C at supersonic flight were developed by Triplex.[94] The droop nose was developed by Marshall of Cambridge (Engineering) Ltd [1].

Operational history

Scheduled flights

The official handover ceremony to British Airways of its first Concorde occurred on 15 January 1976 at Heathrow Airport
Concorde in Singapore Airlines livery at Heathrow in 1979.
Air France Concorde in 1977

Scheduled flights began on 21 January 1976 on the London–Bahrain and Paris–Rio (via Dakar) routes,[95] with BA flights using the "Speedbird Concorde" callsign to notify air traffic control of the aircraft’s unique abilities and restrictions, but the French using their normal callsigns.[96] The Paris-Caracas route (via Azores) began on 10 April. The US Congress had just banned Concorde landings in the US, mainly due to citizen protest over sonic booms, preventing launch on the coveted transatlantic routes. The US Secretary of Transportation, William Coleman, gave permission for Concorde service to Washington Dulles International Airport, and Air France and British Airways simultaneously began service to Dulles on 24 May 1976.[97]

When the US ban on JFK Concorde operations was lifted in February 1977, New York banned Concorde locally. The ban came to an end on 17 October 1977 when the Supreme Court of the United States declined to overturn a lower court’s ruling rejecting efforts by the Port Authority and a grass-roots campaign led by Carol Berman to continue the ban.[98] In spite of complaints about noise, the noise report noted that Air Force One, at the time a Boeing VC-137, was louder than Concorde at subsonic speeds and during takeoff and landing.[99] Scheduled service from Paris and London to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport began on 22 November 1977.[100]

In 1977, British Airways and Singapore Airlines shared a Concorde for flights between London and Singapore International Airport via Bahrain. The aircraft, BA’s Concorde G-BOAD, was painted in Singapore Airlines livery on the port side and British Airways livery on the starboard side.[101][102] The service was discontinued after three return flights because of noise complaints from the Malaysian government;[103] it could only be reinstated on a new route bypassing Malaysian airspace in 1979. A dispute with India prevented Concorde from reaching supersonic speeds in Indian airspace, so the route was eventually declared not viable and discontinued in 1980.[104]

During the Mexican oil boom, Air France flew Concorde twice weekly to Mexico City’s Benito Juárez International Airport via Washington, DC, or New York City, from September 1978 to November 1982.[105][106] The worldwide economic crisis during that period resulted in this route’s cancellation; the last flights were almost empty. The routing between Washington or New York and Mexico City included a deceleration, from Mach 2.02 to Mach 0.95, to cross Florida subsonically and avoid creating a sonic boom over the state; Concorde then re-accelerated back to high speed while crossing the Gulf of Mexico. On 1 April 1989, on an around-the-world luxury tour charter, British Airways implemented changes to this routing that allowed G-BOAF to maintain Mach 2.02 by passing around Florida to the east and south. Periodically Concorde visited the region on similar chartered flights to Mexico City and Acapulco.[107]

From 1978 to 1980, Braniff International Airways leased 10 Concordes, five each from Air France and British Airways.[108] These were used on subsonic flights between Dallas-Fort Worth and Washington Dulles International Airport, flown by Braniff flight crews.[109] Air France and British Airways crews then took over for the continuing supersonic flights to London and Paris.[110] The aircraft were registered in both the United States and their home countries; the European registration was covered while being operated by Braniff, retaining full AF/BA liveries. The flights were not profitable and typically less than 50% booked, forcing Braniff to end its tenure as the only US Concorde operator in May 1980.[111][112]

BA buys its Concordes outright

By around 1981 in the UK, the future for Concorde looked bleak. The British government had lost money operating Concorde every year, and moves were afoot to cancel the service entirely. A cost projection came back with greatly reduced metallurgical testing costs because the test rig for the wings had built up enough data to last for 30 years and could be shut down. Despite this, the government was not keen to continue. In late 1983, the managing director of BA, Sir John King, convinced the government to sell the aircraft outright to (the then state owned, later privatised) BA for £16.5 million plus the first year’s profits.[113][114]

An Air France Concorde at John F. Kennedy International Airport in 1987

Sir John King realised that he had a premier product that was underpriced, and after carrying out a market survey, British Airways discovered that customers thought Concorde was more expensive than it actually was (because most customers' companies paid for flights). Ticket prices were progressively raised to match these perceptions.[31] It is reported that British Airways then ran Concorde at a profit, unlike their French counterpart.[115][116][117] British Airways's profits have been reported to be up to £50 million in the most profitable years, with a total revenue of £1.75 billion, before costs of £1 billion.[115]

Between 1984 and 1991, British Airways flew a thrice-weekly Concorde service between London and Miami, stopping at Washington’s Dulles International Airport.[118][119] Until 2003, Air France and British Airways continued to operate the New York services daily. Concorde routinely flew to Grantley Adams International Airport, Barbados, during the winter holiday season.[120] Air France also used Concorde on flights to Denpasar, Indonesia, from early 1988 into the 1990s, when the route to Denpasar was terminated and replaced by conventional services to Jakarta. The Jakarta route was considered for service by Concorde, but Jakarta's airport did not meet the requirements for the aircraft.[citation needed]

Prior to the Air France Paris crash, several UK and French tour operators operated charter flights to European destinations on a regular basis;[121][122] the charter business was viewed as lucrative by British Airways and Air France.[123]

Concorde Flight 4590 crash

On 25 July 2000, Air France Flight 4590, registration F-BTSC, crashed in Gonesse, France, killing all 100 passengers and nine crew members on board the flight, and four people on the ground. It was the only fatal incident involving Concorde.

According to the official investigation conducted by the French accident investigation bureau (BEA), the crash was caused by a titanium strip that fell from a Continental Airlines DC-10 that had taken off minutes earlier. This metal fragment punctured a tyre on Concorde's left main wheel bogie during takeoff. The tyre exploded, a piece of rubber hit the fuel tank, and while the fuel tank was not punctured, the impact caused a shock-wave which caused one of the fuel valves in the wing to burst open. This caused a major fuel leak from the tank, which then ignited due to sparking electrical landing gear wiring severed by another piece of the same tyre. The crew shut down engine number 2 in response to a fire warning, and with engine number 1 surging and producing little power, the aircraft was unable to gain height or speed. The aircraft entered a rapid pitch-up then a violent descent, rolling left and crashing tail-low into the Hotelissimo Hotel in Gonesse.[124] On 6 December 2010, Continental Airlines and John Taylor, one of their mechanics, were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.[125]

Prior to the accident, Concorde had been arguably the safest operational passenger airliner in the world in terms of passenger deaths-per-kilometres travelled with zero, but with a history of tyre explosions 60 times higher than subsonic jets.[126] Safety improvements were made in the wake of the crash, including more secure electrical controls, Kevlar lining to the fuel tanks and specially developed burst-resistant tyres.[127]

The first flight after the modifications departed from London Heathrow on 17 July 2001, piloted by BA Chief Concorde Pilot Mike Bannister. During the 3-hour 20-minute flight over the mid-Atlantic towards Iceland, Bannister attained Mach 2.02 and 60,000 ft (18,000 m) before returning to RAF Brize Norton. The test flight, intended to resemble the London–New York route, was declared a success and was watched on live TV, and by crowds on the ground at both locations.[128] The first flight with passengers after the accident took place on 11 September 2001, which landed shortly before the World Trade Center attacks in the United States. This was not a revenue flight, as all the passengers were BA employees.[129]

Normal commercial operations resumed on 7 November 2001 by BA and AF (aircraft G-BOAE and F-BTSD), with service to New York JFK, where passengers were welcomed by the mayor Rudy Giuliani.[130][131]


Concorde G-BOAB in storage at London Heathrow Airport. This aircraft flew for 22,296 hours between its first flight in 1976 and its final flight in 2000.

On 10 April 2003, Air France and British Airways simultaneously announced that they would retire Concorde later that year.[132][133] They cited low passenger numbers following the 25 July 2000 crash, the slump in air travel following 11 September 2001, and rising maintenance costs. Although Concorde was technologically advanced when introduced in the 1970s, 30 years later its analogue cockpit was dated. There had been little commercial pressure to upgrade Concorde due to a lack of competing aircraft, unlike other airliners of the same era such as the Boeing 747.[134] By its retirement, it was the last aircraft in British Airways' fleet that had a flight engineer; other aircraft, such as the modernised 747-400, had eliminated the role.[135]

On the same day, Sir Richard Branson offered to buy British Airways’ Concorde fleet at their "original price of £1" for service with Virgin Atlantic Airways. Branson claimed this to be the same token price that British Airways had paid the British Government; however, BA denied this and refused the offer.[136] The aircraft were bought for £26 million each with money lent from the government, who in turn took 80% of the profits. Subsequently BA bought two aircraft for a book value of £1 as part of the £16.5 million buy out in 1983.[115] Branson wrote in The Economist (23 October 2003) that his final offer was "over £5 million" and that he had intended to operate the fleet "for many years to come".[137] The chances for keeping Concorde in service were stifled by Airbus's lack of support for continued maintenance.[138][139][N 2]

It has been suggested that Concorde was not withdrawn for the reasons usually given but that it became apparent during the grounding of Concorde that the airlines could make more revenue carrying first class passengers subsonically.[140] Rob Lewis suggested that the Air France retirement of its Concorde fleet was the result of a conspiracy between Air France Chairman Jean-Cyril Spinetta and Airbus CEO Noel Forgeard, and stemmed as much from a fear of being found criminally liable under French law for future Concorde accidents as from simple economics.[141] A lack of commitment to Concorde from Director of Engineering Alan MacDonald was cited as having undermined BA’s resolve to continue operating Concorde.[142]

Air France

Air France made their final commercial Concorde landing in the United States in New York City from Paris on 30 May 2003.[143][144] During the following week, on 2 and 3 June 2003, F-BTSD flew a final round-trip from Paris to New York for airline staff and long-time employees in the airline's Concorde operations.[145] Air France's final Concorde flight took place on 27 June 2003 when F-BVFC retired to Toulouse.[146]

Air France Concorde at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport

An auction of Concorde parts and memorabilia for Air France was held at Christie's in Paris on 15 November 2003; 1,300 people attended, and several lots exceeded their predicted values.[147] French Concorde F-BVFC was retired to Toulouse and kept functional for a short time after the end of service, in case taxi runs were required in support of the French judicial enquiry into the 2000 crash.[148] The aircraft is now fully retired and no longer functional.[149]

French Concorde F-BTSD has been retired to the "Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace" at Le Bourget (near Paris) and, unlike the other museum Concordes, a few of the systems are being kept functional. For instance, the famous "droop nose" can still be lowered and raised. This led to rumours that they could be prepared for future flights for special occasions.[150]

French Concorde F-BVFB currently rests at the Auto & Technik Museum Sinsheim at Sinsheim, Germany, after its last flight from Paris to Baden-Baden, followed by a spectacular transport to Sinsheim via barge and road. The museum also has a Tu-144 on display – this is the only place where both supersonic airliners can be seen together.[151]

British Airways

Mike Bannister (left) in the cockpit of BA002

British Airways conducted a North American farewell tour in October 2003. G-BOAG visited Toronto Pearson International Airport on 1 October, after which it flew to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.[152] G-BOAD visited Boston’s Logan International Airport on 8 October, and G-BOAG visited Washington Dulles International Airport on 14 October.[153] It has been claimed that G-BOAD’s flight from London Heathrow to Boston set a transatlantic flight record of 3 hours, 5 minutes, 34 seconds.[154] However the fastest transatlantic flight was from Heathrow to New York JFK airport on 7 February 1996, taking only 2 hours, 52 minutes, 59 seconds.[155][156]

In a week of farewell flights around the United Kingdom, Concorde visited Birmingham on 20 October, Belfast on 21 October, Manchester on 22 October, Cardiff on 23 October and Edinburgh on 24 October. Each day the aircraft made a return flight out and back into Heathrow to the cities, often overflying them at low altitude.[157][158][159] On 22 October, both Concorde flight BA9021C, a special from Manchester, and BA002 from New York landed simultaneously on both of Heathrow's runways. On 23 October 2003, the Queen consented to the illumination of Windsor Castle, an honour reserved for state events and visiting dignitaries, as Concorde's last west-bound commercial flight departed London.[160]

Concorde G-BOAC at the Manchester International Airport Aviation Viewing Park

British Airways retired its Concorde fleet on 24 October.[161] G-BOAG left New York to a fanfare similar to that given for Air France’s F-BTSD, while two more made round trips, G-BOAF over the Bay of Biscay, carrying VIP guests including former Concorde pilots, and G-BOAE to Edinburgh. The three aircraft then circled over London, having received special permission to fly at low altitude, before landing in sequence at Heathrow. The captain of the New York to London flight was Mike Bannister.[162] G-BOAE (212) took its retirement flight on 17 November 2003 from Heathrow to Grantley Adams International Airport on Barbados, where the plane is now on display.[163]

All of BA's Concorde fleet have been grounded, drained of hydraulic fluid and their airworthiness certificates withdrawn. Jock Lowe, ex-chief Concorde pilot and manager of the fleet estimated in 2004 that it would cost £10–15 million to make G-BOAF airworthy again.[150] BA maintain ownership and have stated that they will not fly again due to a lack of support from Airbus.[164] On 1 December 2003, Bonhams held an auction of British Airways’ Concorde artifacts, including a nose cone, at Kensington Olympia in London.[165][166] Proceeds of around £750,000 were raised, with the majority going to charity. In 2007, BA announced that the advertising spot at Heathrow where a 40% scale model of Concorde was located would not be retained; the model is now on display at the Brooklands Museum.[167]


Although only used for spares after being retired from test flying and trials work in 1981, Concorde G-BBDG was dismantled and transported by road from Filton then restored from essentially a shell at the Brooklands Museum in Surrey.[168]

One of the youngest Concordes (F-BTSD) is on display at Le Bourget Air and Space Museum in Paris. In February 2010, it was announced that the museum and a group of volunteer Air France technicians intend to restore F-BTSD so it can taxi under its own power.[169] On 29 May 2010, it was reported that a group comprising the British Save Concorde Group and the French Olympus 593 had begun work on inspecting the engines of a Concorde at Le Bourget Air and Space Museum, with the intent to restore the plane to be able to fly again in demonstrations and air shows. Flying in the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics is also a goal.[170]



Prior to Concorde’s flight trials, the developments made by the civil aviation industry were largely accepted by governments and their respective electorates. The opposition to Concorde’s noise, particularly on the eastern coast of the United States,[171][172] forged a new political agenda on both sides of the Atlantic, with scientists and technology experts across a multitude of industries beginning to take the environmental and social impact more seriously.[173][174] Although Concorde led directly to the introduction of a general noise abatement programme for aircraft flying out of John F. Kennedy Airport, many found that Concorde was quieter than expected,[31] partly due to the pilots temporarily throttling back their engines (known as "noise abatement" – spoken by the pilots as the command "Noise" during take off) to reduce noise during overflight of residential areas.[175] Even before the launch of revenue earning services, it had been noted that Concorde was quieter than several aircraft already commonly in service at that time.[176]

Concorde produced nitrogen oxides in its exhaust, which, despite complicated chemical interactions with other ozone-depleting chemicals, are understood to result in degradation to the ozone layer at the stratospheric altitudes it cruised.[177] It has been pointed out that other, lower-flying, airliners produce ozone during their flights in the troposphere, but vertical transit of gases between the layers is restricted. The small fleet operated meant overall ozone-layer degradation caused by Concorde was negligible.[177]

Concorde’s technical leap forward boosted the public’s understanding of conflicts between technology and the environment as well as the awareness of the complex decision analysis processes that surround such conflicts.[178] In France, the use of acoustic fencing alongside TGV tracks might not have been achieved without the 1970s controversy over aircraft noise.[179] In the UK, the CPRE have issued tranquillity maps since 1990.[180]

Public perception

Parade flight at Queen’s Golden Jubilee
HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh disembark Concorde.

Concorde was normally perceived as a privilege of the rich, but special circular or one-way (with return by other flight or ship) charter flights were arranged to bring a trip within the means of moderately well-off enthusiasts.[181] It is a symbol of great national pride to many in the UK and France; in France it was thought of as a French aircraft, in the UK as British.[182][verification needed]

The aircraft was usually referred to by the British as simply "Concorde".[183] Whilst in France it was known as "le Concorde" due to "le", the definite article,[184] used in French grammar to introduce the name of a ship or aircraft,[185] and the capital being used to distinguish a proper name from a common noun of the same spelling.[184][186] In French, the common noun concorde means "agreement, harmony, or peace". [N 3] Concorde’s pilots and British Airways in official publications often refer to Concorde both in the singular and plural as "she" or "her".[188][189][N 4]

As a symbol of national pride, an example from the BA fleet made occasional flypasts at selected Royal events, major air shows and other special occasions, sometimes in formation with the Red Arrows.[190][191] On the final day of commercial service, public interest was so great that grandstands were erected at Heathrow Airport. Significant numbers of people attended the final landings; the event received widespread media coverage.[192]

37 years after her first test flight, Concorde was announced the winner of the Great British Design Quest organised by the BBC and the Design Museum. A total of 212,000 votes were cast with Concorde beating design icons such as the Mini, mini skirt, Jaguar E-type, Tube map and the Supermarine Spitfire.[4]


The fastest transatlantic airliner flight was from New York JFK to London Heathrow on 7 February 1996 by British Airways' G-BOAD in 2 hours, 52 minutes, 59 seconds from takeoff to touchdown.[155] Concorde also set other records, including the official FAI "Westbound Around the World" and "Eastbound Around the World" world air speed records.[193] On 12–13 October 1992, in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first New World landing, Concorde Spirit Tours (USA) chartered Air France Concorde F-BTSD and circumnavigated the world in 32 hours 49 minutes and 3 seconds, from Lisbon, Portugal, including six refuelling stops at Santo Domingo, Acapulco, Honolulu, Guam, Bangkok, and Bahrain.[194]

The eastbound record was set by the same Air France Concorde (F-BTSD) under charter to Concorde Spirit Tours in the USA on 15–16 August 1995. This promotional flight circumnavigated the world from New York/JFK International Airport in 31 hours 27 minutes 49 seconds, including six refuelling stops at Toulouse, Dubai, Bangkok, Andersen AFB in Guam, Honolulu, and Acapulco.[195] By its 30th flight anniversary on 2 March 1999 Concorde had clocked up 920,000 flight hours, with more than 600,000 supersonic, much more than all of the other supersonic aircraft in the Western world combined.[196]

On its way to the Museum of Flight, G-BOAG set a New York City-to-Seattle speed record of 3 hours, 55 minutes, and 12 seconds.[197]

Comparison with other supersonic aircraft

Tu-144 as a research aircraft for NASA in 1997

The only other supersonic airliner in direct competition with Concorde was the Soviet Tupolev Tu-144, which was nicknamed "Concordski" by Western Europeans for its outward similarity to Concorde.[198] It had been alleged that Soviet espionage efforts had resulted in the theft of Concorde blueprints, ostensibly to assist in the design of the Tu-144.[199] As a result of a rushed development programme, the first Tu-144 prototype was substantially different from the preproduction machines, but both were cruder and less refined than Concorde. The Tu-144S had a significantly shorter range than Concorde, due to its low-bypass turbofan engines.[200] The aircraft had poor control at low speeds because of a simpler supersonic wing design; in addition the Tu-144 required parachutes to land while Concorde used anti-lock brakes.[201] The Tu-144 had two crashes, one at the 1973 Paris Air Show,[202][203] and another during a pre-delivery test flight in May 1978.[204][205]

Later production Tu-144 versions were more refined and competitive. They had retractable canards for better low-speed control, turbojet engines providing nearly the fuel efficiency and similar range to Concorde[182] and a top speed of Mach 2.35. The passenger service commenced in November 1977, but after the 1978 crash the aircraft was taken out of service. The aircraft had an inherently unsafe structural design as a consequence of an automated production method chosen in order to simplify and speed up the manufacturing.[206]

The American designs, the Boeing 2707 and the Lockheed L-2000 were to have been larger, with seating for up to 300 people.[207][208] Running a few years behind Concorde, the winning Boeing 2707 was redesigned to a cropped delta layout; the extra cost of these changes helped to kill the project.[209] The operation of US military aircraft such as the XB-70 Valkyrie and B-58 Hustler had shown that sonic booms were quite capable of reaching the ground,[210] and the experience from the Oklahoma City sonic boom tests led to the same environmental concerns that hindered the commercial success of Concorde. The American government cancelled the project in 1971, after having spent more than $1 billion.[211]

The only other large supersonic aircraft comparable to Concorde are strategic bombers, principally the Russian Tupolev Tu-22/Tu-22M and Tu-160 and the American B-1B Lancer.[212]

Replacements in development

The desire for a second-generation supersonic aircraft has remained within some elements of the aviation industry,[213][214] and several concepts emerged quickly following the retirement of Concorde.

In November 2003, EADS—the parent company of Airbus—announced that it was considering working with Japanese companies to develop a larger, faster replacement for Concorde.[215][216] In October 2005, JAXA, the Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency, undertook aerodynamic testing of a scale model of an airliner designed to carry 300 passengers at Mach 2 (working name NEXST). If pursued to commercial deployment, it would be expected to be in service around 2020–2025.[217] On 18 June 2011, the Zero Emission High Speed Transport or ZEHST concept aircraft was unveiled by EADS at the Paris Air Show.[218] The ZEHST, a hypersonic aircraft to be capable of 3,000 mph (4,800 km/h), is a result of the collaboration efforts between EADS and Japan.[219]

The British company Reaction Engines Limited, with 50% EU money, has been engaged in a research programme called LAPCAT, which examined a design for a hydrogen-fuelled plane carrying 300 passengers called the A2, potentially capable of flying at Mach 5+ non-stop from Brussels to Sydney in 4.6 hours.[220] The follow-on research effort, LAPCAT II began in 2008 and is to last four years.[221][N 5]

In May 2008, it was reported that Aerion Corporation had $3 billion of pre-order sales on its Aerion SBJ supersonic business jet.[222] In late 2010, the project continued with a testbed flight of a section of the wing.[223]

Supersonic Aerospace International's Quiet Supersonic Transport was a 12 passenger design from Lockheed Martin that was to cruise at Mach 1.6, and was to have created a sonic boom only 1% as strong as that generated by Concorde.[224]



Line drawings of Concorde

Data from Wall Street Journal,[135] Kelly (2005),[225][N 6],[226] Richard Seamen aircraft museum[227]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 3 (2 Pilots and a flight engineer)
  • Capacity: 92–120 passengers
    (128 in high-density layout)[N 7]
  • Length: 202 ft 4 in (61.66 m)
  • Wingspan: 84 ft 0 in (25.6 m)
  • Height: 40 ft 0 in (12.2 m)
  • Fuselage internal length: 129 ft 0 in (39.32 m)
  • Fuselage width: maximum of 9 ft 5 in (2.87 m) external 8 ft 7 in (2.62 m) internal
  • Fuselage height: maximum of 10 ft 10 in (3.30 m) external 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) internal)
  • Wing area: 3,856 ft2 (358.25 m2)
  • Empty weight: 173,500 lb (78,700 kg)
  • Useful load: 245,000 lb (111,130 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Rolls-Royce/SNECMA Olympus 593 Mk 610 afterburning turbojets
    • Dry thrust: 32,000 lbf (140 kN) each
    • Thrust with afterburner: 38,050 lbf (169 kN) each
  • Maximum fuel load: 210,940 lb (95,680 kg)
  • Maximum taxiing weight: 412,000 lb (187,000 kg)
Concorde G-BOAC


Notable appearances in media

See also

Related development
  • Bristol Type 223

Related lists



  1. ^ Quote: ...the estimated development costs of £160 million. Anglo-French taxpayers ended up paying out £1.3 billion by the time Concorde entered passenger service in 1976.
  2. ^ Quote: "Airbus, the manufacturer of Concorde, has said it is becoming uneconomic to maintain the ageing craft and that it will no longer provide spare parts for it."
  3. ^ concorde s.f. concord, unity, harmony, peace.[187]
  4. ^ Quote: Raymond Baxter commentating as Concorde flies for first time: "She rolls ... She flies!"
  5. ^ Quote: Starting date 01/10/2008 ... Duration 48 months
  6. ^ Note: 128 was the maximum number of passengers certified.
  7. ^ BA and AF Concordes originally had 100 seats, with AF removing 8 seats after the safety modifications of CY2000–2001 because of weight considerations.


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